For me, multitasking is a myth. My brother can do it. Back in the day, the TV blaring, Doctor John on the turntable, clouds of smoke and waves of conversation filling the room, he could tell you what had just happened on the tube even as he continued the phone call with Chet, cracked on the Taconic Parkway and trying to make a bail set too high due to the embarrassing load he was hauling.
I can get behind Linda Stone’s concept of continuous partial attention (CPA) as long as it’s not mistaken for multitasking. Multitasking is getting it all done in the time it would take to get some of it done. Multitasking would be being able to talk on the phone and work on the computer with neither of the activities suffering due to filtered attention. The highest level of multitasking the average human can reach, is munching snack foods while watching TV.
CPA is time slicing, and expertly performed it might get you through the day at a higher level of productivity than a single minded devotion to the two tasks of slouching on the couch while watching Donny and Marie, pondering what awful incestuous secrets they may be concealing, and slamming the chips and dip located at arms reach. Finishing the snacks and the TV show at the same time is more a matter of logistics than productivity improvement, but it is certainly multitasking. Taking it up a notch, adding a few chores, homework, monitoring twitter, blog posting, reading the latest Robert Parker novel, and walking the dog — each of these may require its own time slice and be impossible of simultaneous accomplishment with any other.
And so, during a busy day we learn to divide our attention, refocus quickly, and work for brief periods on what is in front of us while coming back to tasks we have set aside in favor of others.